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On a Saturday morning this past March, I had a most-inspiring flight between Dallas/Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. That same morning, in conjunction with National Medal of Honor Day, ­American Airlines flew recipients of our nation’s highest military honor for valor to Washington for a series of commemorative events, including a luncheon we were hosting. I was flying in for the luncheon, excited to meet a number of our nation’s most celebrated heroes.

The people of our airline have always felt duty-bound to support our men and women in uniform and their families. Our ties to the military date to the earliest days of our company, and those ties are stronger than ever today, as more than 60 percent of our pilots and one in 10 of all of our people are veterans or are currently serving in the Guard or Reserves. Without fail, the people of American leap at any chance to help those who have served on their behalf.

We know, of course, that we will never be able to match the commitment of those who serve, but we are determined — in fact, we consider it our highest calling — to do all we can. To us, that’s part of what is required to be worthy of the name American Airlines.

We are deeply honored and proud to be the official airline of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. But I will confess that while I already knew a good bit about the Medal of Honor (for instance, through conflicts stretching from the Civil War to present day, it has been awarded fewer than 3,500 times), I didn’t know as much about the honorees I was about to meet as I should have. So, since my flight from DFW to D.C. was equipped with Wi-Fi, I looked them up and read each of their citations — and I was awestruck. Soon after landing, I was in the midst of the heroes I had read about. There, eating lunch not far from where I sat, was Hershel “Woody” Williams. Woody received the Medal of Honor at the ripe old age of 21 for his courage fighting on Iwo Jima during World War II. Not far from him was Leroy Petry who, nearly seven decades after Woody’s heroics, was honored for his bravery and leadership under heavy fire in Afghanistan.

I had the privilege of meeting Woody, Leroy and a number of other Medal of Honor recipients that day, and without exception, they were less interested in their past acts of heroism than they were in the contributions they are making now — and intend to make going forward. Through the Medal of Honor Foundation, these heroes are expanding their legacy by promoting the values of courage, sacrifice, patriotism, citizenship, integrity and commitment. They are working with schools around the country to help young people choose their heroes wisely. Even more importantly, they are reminding Americans young and old that anybody with the courage to challenge fate and a willingness to serve and sacrifice for their fellow man can be a hero.

There is too often a tendency to think of heroes as larger-than-life, John Wayne-type characters. But studying the Medal of Honor recipients that morning, I was reminded that most of our country’s greatest heroes began as the most ordinary of Americans. Some of you may know the story of Audie Murphy, one of the most decorated soldiers in World War II, who received dozens of awards and medals, including the Medal of Honor. What you may not know is that Murphy was an orphan, an impoverished sharecropper from North Texas who was twice denied enlistment because of his diminutive size (5-foot-5, 110 pounds). When the teenaged Murphy was finally permitted to enlist in the Army, few had him pegged as a potential hero. In fact, his first commanding officer tried unsuccessfully to make him a cook. Suffice it to say, he had other ideas.

The Medal of Honor recipients I met would be quick to point out that you don’t need to be larger than life — and you certainly don’t need to serve in the military — to be a hero. There are heroes all around us; folks who every day, without fanfare, make a difference through their selfless service, strength of character and positive example. I’m willing to bet that the flight you are on right now is full of them.

If you would like to learn more about some of the ordinary Americans who became heroes, please visit the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s website: www.cmohs.org. And if you would like to learn more about American’s various veteran-support initiatives, please go to www.aa.com/joinus.

Wherever you are going today, thank you for flying with us. Have a great trip!

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Thomas W. Horton
Chairman & CEO
American Airlines